Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Tackling FGM and violence against women, promoting LGBT+ and disability rights – Conference speech 2014

This year at Liberal Democrat party conference I gave a speech on the work I’m doing in the Department of International Development. You can watch it in full here:

 

Thu 9 October 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Iraq and ISIL

Here is a copy of the email I sent to residents this morning, asking for their views on Iraq and ISIL. You can let me know your views here.

Parliament has been recalled for tomorrow to vote on taking military action to support the Iraqi government in its struggle against ISIL.

As I write, I have no real detail on what the Prime Minister will lay out tomorrow – other than the Iraqi government has asked for our help in fighting ISIL.

I am clear at this point that helping at the request of the Iraqi government and taking some action in Iraq is one thing – but that any further incursion (for instance into Syria) is not on the table.

The UN estimates that 1.8 million people have been displaced in Iraq since January 2014. These displacements are a direct consequence of ISIL violence, killings, and threats. In addition to the displaced population, 1.5 million Iraqis are considered vulnerable in areas controlled by armed opposition groups. The crisis has affected more than 20 million people across the country.

In the debate tomorrow we will know what the proposition is and will be able to make a better judgment. But for now I am laying down some of my thinking and asking for your views.

I think this is an extremely dangerous moment for us – and all the options are hazardous. Whatever we do – I can see that we are in danger in our own country from ISIL – either as terrorist atrocities here fail to be stopped and / or as reprisals for intervention.

The Liberal Democrat party voted against the war in Iraq in 2003 – but we were in the minority and the UK still went to war. Because of that decision, I believe that the UK bears a huge and particular responsibility for Iraq.

Part of what is happening in the region now can be laid at the door of that disastrous foreign policy.

It is also our responsibility to stop slaughter on humanitarian grounds.

We bear the scars from the last Iraq war. My instinct is to not to want to get involved because of that experience. Equally – I never want to feel that we could have done something to stop the slaughter of innocent groups, but we just stood by.

I am uncomfortable with sitting on the sidelines and letting others do the tough stuff, and staying out won’t protect us. So until the actual proposition and debate tomorrow – we all need to think hard.

I know it is difficult to make a judgment with no details available yet about the proposition – but I would truly welcome your thoughts.

Thu 25 September 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Nick Clegg is 100% right about devolution!

Nick’s written an article on devolution which is 100% right. I couldn’t have put it better myself - which is why I am pasting it below. He says it all!

Within hours of the momentous decision by the Scottish people to remain in the UK, Westminster found itself once again bogged down in conventional party political point scoring.

I have seen for myself the way in which the vested interests in the two old parties can conspire to block reform – scuppering elections to the House of Lords and a clean up of party funding in recent years.

We cannot allow an exciting new chapter of empowerment and constitutional renewal to be held hostage yet again by a Labour and Tory pre-election stand off.

The Conservatives, in their rush to protect themselves from an attack from the right, are only concerned about English votes on English matters. Of course we need a solution to this dilemma but, by appearing to link it to the delivery of further devolution to Scotland, they risk reneging on the commitment made to the Scottish people that, in the event of a No vote, new powers would come what may.

Worse still, if the Conservatives enter into a Dutch auction with UKIP over ever more extreme solutions to the issue of English votes they could jeopardise the Union they purport to defend. Surely we haven’t fought to save our Union in a vote north of the border, only to see it balkanised in Westminster?

Labour, by contrast, appears to have been taken by surprise by the unavoidable consequences of devolving sweeping new powers to Holyrood. They are choosing to ignore the dilemma of non-English MPs taking decisions on purely English issues – as a party with dozens of Scottish MPs they have the most to lose.

So, unless they’re careful, the Conservatives may end up turning their back on Scotland, while Labour ignores England: a recipe for stalemate when we should we working across political divides to renew our creaking constitution from top to toe.

We need action on three fronts.

First, delivering the devolution that has been promised to Scotland. No ifs, no buts. The package of reforms myself, Ed Miliband and David Cameron all committed to must be delivered on time and cannot be made contingent on other constitutional reforms, even as we pursue agreement on them in parallel.

We must deliver further powers for Wales as recommended by the Silk Commission while strengthening devolution in Northern Ireland too. And, on the divisive issue of English votes for English matters, we must start with the work of Sir William McKay, who has already done a lot of the heavy lifting after the Coalition asked him to look at this. Sir McKay suggested a number of ways of giving English MPs a special right to vet legislation where it only affects England, bringing in Welsh MPs where appropriate, in a way which avoids fragmenting the Commons.

Second, we need a much more radical dispersal of power within England.

In Coalition I have been determined that – against all of the instincts of central government – we hand back an array of powers to Britain’s communities and cities. But we need to turn this relationship fundamentally on its head. Currently the best local councils can hope for is to be granted new powers when the government of the day deigns to do so. Instead we must guarantee a new, legal right for local authorities to demand powers – decentralisation on demand if you like – with central government having to meet a much higher threshold before it can refuse.

My aim is a statutory presumption in favour of the decentralisation of powers away from Whitehall. I see no reason why we cannot publish draft clauses for this early next year alongside our other pressing reforms.

Finally, as we move towards a more federal system we will need to codify the division of labour between Westminster and the constituent parts of the UK and set out a clear statement of the values we all share. In short, what amounts to a written constitution.

I welcome Labour’s decision to embrace the longstanding Liberal Democrat call for a constitutional convention – but it needs a precise mandate, beginning next year and concluding in 2017. It should have a Citizen’s Jury at its heart, representing every corner of the UK. One area it will need to address is the future of the House of Lords which, in my view, would better serve people as an elected second chamber, in keeping with federal political systems across the world. Ultimately, however, it will not be up to politicians – this process will be led by the people.

Together these changes will rewire power across the UK. This opportunity cannot be hijacked by old fashioned ya boo politics. It would be a tragic irony if the stale and self-serving politics of Westminster that has fed the appetite for change now frustrates the possibility of radical reform. The Scottish referendum may have come and gone, but it’s legacy of UK-wide constitutional renewal still remains within our grasp.

Sun 21 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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MoneyWise Haringey – jobs fair

MoneyWise Haringey is a local project run by the Citizens Advice Bureau, to help people manage their finances.

Alongside advice on saving, benefits, and bills, they have arranged a jobs fair on 1st October. To ensure that everyone gets the most out of the experience, MoneyWise are offering free haircuts and CV training on the day, as well as entering all registered attendees in a prize draw.

I run an annual apprenticeship event (this year’s was at the Civic Centre earlier this month) and so I have seen first-hand how beneficial getting into work is for young people – the boost in confidence, independence, and of course income that work provides cannot be underestimated.

Since the Lib Dems entered government in 2010 youth unemployment in my constituency (Hornsey and Wood Green) has more than halved. Of course we would like to see it fall even further, and so I am delighted that projects like MoneyWise are helping people into work.

The MoneyWise Job Fair will take place from 9.30am on 1st October at 639 Enterprise Centre, High Road, N17 8AA. Directions and advice about what to do before the Fair can be found on the MoneyWise website.

Tue 16 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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South Sudan’s leaders must do more to end crisis

Here’s a blog from my recent visit to South Sudan, also available on the Huffington Post.

While the eyes of the world rightly look towards global crises in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine and West Africa, there is a serious and worsening humanitarian disaster almost going unnoticed in South Sudan.

It is deeply saddening to see a country that was once so full of hope for the future, now embroiled in such a painful and destructive war with itself. When I first visited South Sudan less than two years ago I was struck by the optimism and hope that filled the air but today it is an entirely different story.

2014-09-12-SouthSudanLFOct2012.jpg

Since December violence has spread through the country forcing 1.7million people to flee their homes. The conflict between the Government and Opposition party supporters has created in its wake one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Some 400,000 people are now refugees in neighbouring countries, numbers the UN expects to double by December.

And yet the situation could get worse as the threat of famine looms large. This year’s planting season has been neglected by people fleeing their home to escape the violence and aid agencies have warned of the risk of food shortage. Already people are dying from food insecurity and the UN predicts that some 50,000 children could die of malnutrition before the year is out, even before famine is formally declared.

It is an increasingly desperate situation and last week I visited South Sudan to see for myself just how severe it is. It is clear that even now there are already chronic food shortages. At an International Rescue Committee nutrition centre in Ganyliel Town, I saw many children suffering from malnourishment. I met a young mother whose infant child was severely under-nourished and had severe medical problems. Her struggle to feed her child with the limited supply of food available to her was deeply moving.

2014-09-12-SSudanrefugeeEthiopiaPWiggersUNHCR960.png

The UK has contributed £125million to help those caught-up in this crisis. This includes £30 million I announced during my visit for refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. This will help deliver food, shelter, basic hygiene needs, safe water, immunisation and essential supplies such as mosquito nets, kitchen sets and fuel. But the UN’s Crisis Response Plan remains under-funded, and we desperately need other donors to contribute more too.

The truly appalling tragedy about this crisis is that it is wholly man-made. Ultimately aid cannot fix the problem, only help deal with the consequences. South Sudan’s leaders must accept full responsibility for starting the conflict and now must work to end it. Politicians need to honour the agreements they have already made, but ignored, to stop the fighting. These were the messages I delivered to the South Sudanese Government during my visit, and which they and leaders of the armed opposition need to hear loud and clear from us all.

Sun 14 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Affordable Homes Bill

Here’s a copy of an email I sent to residents yesterday, who contacted me regarding the Affordable Homes Bill:

Thank you for your email with regards to the Affordable Homes Bill, put forward by my Lib Dem colleague Andrew George MP.

I will be voting in favour of this Bill tomorrow.

Under-occupancy is a serious problem across the country, caused by a loss of 1.5 million council homes by successive Labour and Tory governments.

Since 2010, the Lib Dems have been working to reverse this decline, overseeing the construction of 170,000 new social and affordable homes.

To tackle the under occupancy issue, the last Labour government introduced a Housing Benefit reduction (or ‘bedroom tax’) for those with a spare bedroom in the private rented sector, which was then matched in 2013 for those in social housing.

My Lib Dem colleagues and I argued for significant changes to make the new policy fairer – and we secured a £25 million fund for Discretionary Housing Payments, £5 million for foster carers, and exemptions for the elderly.

But we want to go further, which is why we are supporting Andrew George’s Bill that will change the rules to protect the most vulnerable in society.

The Bill is made of two parts – one is to secure a review of affordable housing by the Secretary of State, and the other would provide three new exemptions to spare bedroom rules.

Proposals mean that there will be no change to a person’s Housing Benefit if:

1)      A property has been adapted for a disabled claimant, their partner, or a close relative living with them.

2)      The DLA/PIP claimant, their partner, or a close relative living with them has a disability which prevents them from sharing a room.

3)      The Local Authority or Housing Association has not made a ‘reasonable offer of alternative accommodation’

This will make the system significantly fairer, which is why I am very pleased to support the Bill tomorrow.

 

Fri 5 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Now is the time to prevent a man-made famine in South Sudan

Here is a blog from my latest visit to South Sudan. Also available on the Department for International Development site.

I can clearly remember my first overseas visit as a DFID minister. It was just under 2 years ago, in October 2012. I was struck by the optimism and hope that filled the air of this new and ambitious country.

On Monday I returned to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to find an entirely different situation.

A humanitarian crisis has gripped the country since fighting broke out last December. Over 1.7 million people have fled their communities in fear of their lives. Over 4 million people – one-third of the population – are ‘food insecure’. While famine for this crop season has been averted, UNICEF estimates that up to 50,000 children could still die before the end of the year, and there is a very high chance that the situation could deteriorate further and that famine will be declared in early 2015.

It is heart-breaking to see what has happened to this country so soon after it was born as a nation.

Lynne Featherstone at the IRC run nutrition centre in Ganyiel where they assess, monitor and record the needs for children. Picture: David Shaw/DFID

To see first-hand how DFID is helping some of the people who are at risk, I ventured 90 minutes by plane to Ganyliel Town, located at the southern end of Unity State.

I saw how a nutrition centre, run by the International Rescue Committee, is helping the local community deal with the lack of food. The centre can diagnose, monitor and treat malnutrition. The workers weigh and measure the circumference of children’s arms, to assess what assistance they need.

Those who are severely malnourished are given plumpy nut, a peanut based high-energy paste that’s rich in vitamins and minerals, and can be eaten straight from the packet.

Another facility treats children with severe medical needs. I met a young mother whose infant child was severely under-nourished and poorly. I was deeply moved to hear about her struggle to feed her child with the limited supply of food available to her.

Lynne Featherstone meets a young mother and child in Ganyiel, South Sudan. Picture David Shaw/DFID

Action must be taken now. Yesterday I announced £30 million of additional funding to help support the South Sudanese people who have fled in fear for their lives to neighbouring countries. But more still needs to be done.

Over 100 women arrive with Jerry cans to collect water for families and people with disabilities in the local community. Picture: Ian Hughes/FCO

Other donors need to step up. But ultimately the responsibility lies with those with power in South Sudan. The government and the opposition must reach a peace settlement soon and provide much-needed assistance to the people of this young nation.

Perhaps then, next time I visit, there’s a chance the country will have returned to the optimism and hope of its early years.

Thu 4 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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The situation in Gaza

Here is a copy of an email I have sent to local residents this afternoon, about the situation in Gaza. please do get in touch if you are a local resident and want to discuss this further. 

The conflict and subsequent humanitarian crisis in Gaza has left over 400,000 civilians struggling to find food, water, or shelter.

That’s why the UK government has been one of the largest humanitarian aid donors to date. The Department for International Development – where I am a minister – has provided:

  • £6m for basics (shelter and cooking equipment)
  • £3m for healthcare
  • £3m for the Rapid Response Facility
  • £2m to the Disasters Emergency Committee

We have also released a further £3m for emergency food, helping around 300,000 people in serious need. This brings the total supplied by the UK to £17 million. We will remain at the forefront of the relief effort for civilians.

In terms of the conflict itself –the urgent priority of the Lib Dems in government is to help stop the bloodshed with an unconditional and immediate ceasefire and work towards a long-term sustainable peace.

Many local residents have already contacted me to express their views on the conflict. There is an understandable strength of feeling about the situation, which is causing so many people so much misery and hurt.

I take all views seriously – so if you wish to contact me about this, or any other matter, please do. I will respond and pass on any opinions to the Foreign and Defence secretaries.

P.S. You can find out further information about the work of the Department for International Development – in Gaza and other areas – here.

Wed 20 August 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Local apprenticeship event and falling youth unemployment

Youth unemployment in Hornsey and Wood Green (my constituency) has fallen again! In fact, youth unemployment here has halved over the last four years – down from 7.1% in May 2010 to just 3.1% in June.

This means more and more local young people are getting into work, learning skills and earning money – which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Under the previous Labour Government, education standards fell and youth unemployment rose. Some young people got stuck in the benefits system. Labour threw endless money into this system, and they ended up trapping people, who found they would get more money being unemployed than they would in a job. This is no way to incentivise young talent into work!

When the Lib Dems entered Government in 2010, creating jobs and apprenticeships, and getting all able people back into work, was one of our top priorities.

Working with businesses, we have helped to create one million jobs since 2010, and 1.8 million apprenticeships. Employment rates are now at a record high as the economy continues to recover.

And I want to make sure we keep up in Haringey. Our young people must be aware of, and able to access, all of these opportunities.

That’s why I’m holding my second annual apprenticeship event, on the 28th August at Haringey Civic Centre. There will be companies at the event with hundreds of vacancies, which local young people can ask about and apply for.

You can also come just to find out a bit more information and ask questions.

An apprenticeship really is a great way to kick start a career. They take between one and four years to complete and combine practical training in a job with study. That means you get paid to study and learn a trade, whilst also being able to make contacts in an industry.

And you get a qualification too – an advanced level apprenticeship is equivalent to two A level passes, and others can lead to the attainment of a Foundation Degree.

Last year, the apprenticeship event was a great success – one young person was taken on the very next day! I hope we can do even better this year.

So if you are a young person, unemployed or just looking for a new challenge, do come down to the Civic Centre (High Road, Wood Green, London, N22 8LE) on the 28th August between 2pm and 6pm – to meet employers and find out more!

Thu 14 August 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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FGM – Girl Summit and Youth for Change

Well – it’s been quite a stunning week.

Last Saturday we (Department of International Development) held a Youth for Change event on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Early and Forced marriage (CEFM). Young people came and took over DFID for the day.

And then on Tuesday – we had the Girl Summit 2014 – which brought leaders, activists and campaigners from all over the world to unite in the fight against FGM and CEFM.

At the Youth for Change event – which I hope you read about in the papers – there was an amazing program ranging from mentoring sessions for young people to TedX talks! At the end of the day – the Youth Advisory Panel (who had been instrumental in designing the day) did a wonderful performance demonstrating how life is now for many girls across the world – and how it can change!

Mentoring young people at Youth for Change

And you will notice in the photos – that there are quite a few boys involved. This is all of our business and men and boys have a role and responsibility. And it was fantastic at the end of the day when Nick Clegg and I sat and talked with the Youth Panel to hear boys talking about these issues openly – no embarassment and no hesitation. The world really can change – and it is young people who are the agents of change.

TedX - empowering girls voices

The Girl Summit 2014 itself – saw the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Secretaries of State for Home Office and DFID all take to the plenary stage to demonstrate the commitment of the UK government to eradicating FGM and CEFM within a generation – and I hope that message rang out loud and clear across the country – and indeed the whole world.

I am particularly proud of the announcement Nick Clegg championed and made on the day – that all frontline professionals working in the public sector will have compulsory training on FGM. This has been such a missing link on tackling FGM in our country. Tippy toeing around cultural eggshells inhibited addressing this issue for far too long – and even now – it is a sensitive issue – and frontline workers (teachers, health workers, police and social workers) need to feel confident so that they can intervene to detect a child at risk at the earliest stage – and hopefully prevent FGM from taking place. This now will happen.

Freida Pinto and the gang!

There were speeches and dancing. There were panels and questions. There were round tables and spotlight sessions. But of all who took part – my special praise goes to those brave girls and women campaigners – who have been cut and who have spoken out to break the silence so that girls in the future will not go through what they went through.

It is these girls’ and women’s life stories and life efforts that were the catalyst for FGM and CEFM now being top of the political agenda.

To all the girls and women – who educated me and made me take this on as a mission – I thank and salute you.

 

Fri 25 July 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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